This article came my way for reasons that are a little hard to explain. It goes into some detail about peer reviews of different kind in scientific journals. To be honest, most of the argument is a little beyond me and if there are any scientists among this blog's readers they might like to enlighten the rest of us.

However, the article did turn my attention to a rather peculiar development among some journals and, especially, publishers who are insisting on what they call "peer review" in arts and social sciences. This, I maintain, is not just completely unnecessary but is actually harmful.

When I was still editing the printed version of the Conservative History Journal I was asked once or twice whether the articles were peer-reviewed. Until then it had not occurred to me that history articles could be. Factual inaccuracy, if not caught by the editor, is usually pointed out by some alert reader while interpretations one can argue about but they do not come under the rubric of peer review. That would imply that certain interpretations ought not to be published as they are somehow outside the peer consensus. That, as far as I can make out, is exactly what is happening with some publishers. At least one person I know has had trouble after the publisher had accepted her book with peer reviews because her writing was "outside the academic consensus" according to one reviewer. The publisher seems to be in a dither.

My reply was that CHJ is not peer reviewed and nor is it. Mistakes can be picked up and interpretations should be varied. I recall going through an article about Margaret Thatcher's premiership that was really rather hostile to her policies and achievements. I disagreed with every word but corrected only the grammar and punctuation as necessary. Maybe I tightened the text up a little but left all the arguments I considered wrong-headed in place. That, in my opinion, is what an editor does. Running off to a bunch of peer reviewers is not the answer.

Having thought about the subject I realized that a couple more points need to be made. One is that peer review looks at methodology. Any editor of a history journal or of a history book should be able to see whether the methodology makes sense and whether too many relevant facts and developments had been left out. I presume that is not so with science publications as no editor or a journal could understand the methodology of all branches of research. Therefore, peer review makes some sense.

On the other hand, as we have seen with the scandal that surrounds a good deal of the so-called "climate change science" and, specifically, with the e-mail controversy (or scandal) to do with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in any controversial subject peer review can be and is used to prevent a break in the consensus.

I am hoping there will be comments on this piece as I would like to start a discussion. It is important for the future of history writing whether we accept the need for peer reviewing or not.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. "My reply was that CHJ is not peer reviewed and nor is it."

    I think this sentence is incomplete

  3. Anonymous Says:

  4. "My reply was that CHJ is not peer reviewed and nor is it."

    I think this sentence is incomplete.

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